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Narrators matter and it is rare for me to buy an audiobook that I already own, and enjoy just to hear another perspective in the way it is read. But this book lends itself to the two pretty much different voices. Sledge wrote this book about his combat experience in his maturity. I think like many veterans of war, especially ground combat. some distance, in terms of years, often decades, is required to tell the story. But E. B. Sledge lived it and survived it, and not just physically, as a young man.
George Wilson does a terrific job of telling this story as an adult explaining what happened, in the voice of someone who not only survived, but is strong enough to remember and acknowledge the ordinary people who accomplished remarkable things, good, bad, and horrific. The drama comes from the written word, and Sledge does not add many flourishes. The stated facts of what he saw and experienced do not need them.
Marc Vietor reads in the voice of the young man experiencing the fatigue, terror and even humor, of the ground combat soldier in the Pacific of World War II. It is good to remember that Sledge and his fellow marines were very young. In another time they would have been deciding what they would do when they grew up. In that time they were just trying to stay alive to grow up.
I am glad I indulged myself and bought both books.
37 of 37 people found this review helpful
This is a review of two books, “With the Old Breed” and “Helmet for My Pillow.” HBO based its miniseries “The Pacific,” on these books, and Audible Studios and Playtone recently made new recordings of both books. If, like me, you were interested in both, hopefully this will help sort out how they stack up. In short, both are worth the listen, but if you only wish to get one, go with “With the old Breed.”
“With the Old Breed” is the war diary of E.B. Sledge (a.k.a. “Sledgehammer”). Although not an author by trade Sledge is obviously very intelligent and well-spoken. He writes like he was telling the story to his family, which is, in fact, apparently why Sledge wrote the book in the first place. Sledge describes his experiences at the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa, but also describes his training prior to the battles. The scenes are graphic and disturbing at times, but no doubt accurate.
It’s been said before that Sledge’s book is required reading for anyone thinking of joining the Marines, and I think this must be correct. For officers, Sledge’s account as a private depicts and describes the traits of the “good” officers verses the, let’s call them, “not so good” officers. It’s a veritable “how to” earn and command the respect and admiration of your men, which may be useful for any person in a leadership position to know. For the enlisted men, the book is a very real account of the inglorious nature of war. Wars are not fought to win honors, and no-one should join up in search of glory and fame. As Sledge says, often, it’s a “waste.”
As for the narration, Mazzello is a good actor, but a little slow. I’d recommend listening at 1.25% speed at least, or else it just drags on.
“Helmet for my Pillow” is Robert Leckie’s account of his experiences in the war. Leckie fought at Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu, but also writes considerably about his “debauchery” in Australia between the battles. His prose (and even his poetry) are quite well-written, and you get a good sense of what life must have been like in the Pacific when the fighting was not going on.
The book is also well narrated. Dale tells the story with good pacing, tone, and vocal color throughout. (By the way, Tom Hanks phones in his introductions for both books, which is disappointing).
In comparison, although there are many similarities to the realities of war, the books are very different. Leckie’s book is much better written than Sledge’s, but perhaps not as engaging from a story-telling perspective. Also, these two Marines could not be more different in character. Sledge is a boy-scout, whereas Leckie is a rogue, spending it seems more time in the brig, than in battle. This is not likely a fair comparison, given the horrific things both privates had to put up with, but Leckie comes off as less sympathetic than Sledge.
Overall, if you choose only one of these two books, I recommend “With the Old Breed,” but really I’d recommend both books to anyone, even those not interested in history. These are not stale accounts of dates and locations and troop numbers. These are firsthand accounts of the horrors of war, which is something later generations (such as my own) luckily have not experienced to this extreme. The people Sledge and Leckie describe are real people, not just characters. When they died, or were injured, or went crazy, these things really happened, which is, I think, something worth remembering.
Read the book(s), and thank a veteran when you see one.
21 of 21 people found this review helpful